DFC Commons Is Renamed After President Julie H. Sullivan

There was a room full of laughter, love and cheer in The Great Room on the Minneapolis campus at the University of St. Thomas as scholars, staff, faculty, alumni and supporters of the Dougherty Family College (DFC) came together to honor and appreciate President Julie Sullivan for her years of service and say final goodbyes as she prepares to become president of Santa Clara University in California.

At the April 20 event it was announced that the Board of Trustees voted to name the Dougherty Family College commons the “Julie H. Sullivan Commons” in order to recognize her legacy and all the work she has done to support DFC and to bring the college to fruition.

“I am extremely humbled and grateful for today,” Sullivan said. “It really brings tears to my eyes. [Dougherty Family College] is the best thing I have ever been a part of, but I am not the creator, we are all the creators. So much work went into creating the Dougherty Family College across the university. The thing we celebrate the most about the Dougherty Family College is our scholars. The gifts that you have, the myriad of gifts and talents that you have, you bring them to St. Thomas; you make St. Thomas a better place.”

President Julie Sullivan smiles during a celebration by students, staff and faculty of the Dougherty Family College in Opus Hall in Minneapolis on April 20, 2022.

Several speakers shared words about Sullivan’s impact on them and the community and how DFC opened doors and pathways for them to achieve success in higher education.

Mesum Haider ’19 AA, ’22, a DFC alumnus who was a part of the inaugural class and subsequently attended St. Thomas for his bachelor’s degree, attended to represent the DFC Class of 2019 and share thoughts about Sullivan’s impact on the DFC community.

“Today we are here to celebrate a gem in our community, a shining visionary whose work has directly impacted my life and so many lives yet to come,” he said. “Since the Dougherty Family College first opened in 2017, you see students persevere because they want to make a difference in the world they believe they can change for the better. They just need an opportunity to develop the skills and confidence to become visionaries.”

Haider added, “We should always remember those who had opened doors for us and we should continue to open doors for others to walk through. On behalf of all the DFC alumni, we sincerely express thank you to President Sullivan for her vision and determination of bringing this college to life. Thank you for your commitment to the common good and the belief in a better tomorrow.”

Sophomore Kal Animut shared that as a first-generation “Dreamer student” from a low-income family, she initially questioned if she could afford to attend college. “It wasn’t until I learned about DFC that I started thinking about college again. DFC gave me hope to attend college,” she said.

After coming to DFC, Animut took on a lot of leadership roles, such as being a member of the Student Advisory Board, PTK (Phi Theta Kapa) and a peer mentor. She has received a full-tuition scholarship to continue her education at St. Thomas, where she will study health and exercise science. “I want to thank President Sullivan for her vision to create DFC and give us an opportunity for our next steps.”

Alejandra Soria, a first-year student at DFC, also spoke about her experience at DFC.

“I did not think that coming to college was going to be an option for me because of my family’s journey to come to the U.S.,” she said. Her family immigrated to the U.S. from Bolivia 35 years ago, and her older siblings did not make it to college. As the youngest in her family, she said, “my parents were really pushing for me to attend college, but I didn’t think I’d be able to do it financially.”

She found out about DFC and calls it “a huge blessing” and “an amazing opportunity.” Soria said, “St. Thomas has always been one of my dream schools. Being here has been just an amazing impact on my life.”

She closed by thanking Sullivan “for having that vision and making this [dream] come true.”

Two first-year scholars, Marielena Chacon-Pacheco and Kayla Martin, presented Sullivan with a picture of the DFC mural in a frame signed by first-year and sophomore students.

DFC founders Mike and Kathy Dougherty, Provost Eddy Rojas and Board of Trustees member Pat Ryan were also in attendance. Ryan said he remembers the day that Sullivan first called him about plans to start Dougherty Family College as well as the day the board voted on the resolution to launch the college.

“I would tell you that probably for all of Julie’s tenure, definitely for mine, this has been the most significant thing that we have instituted from a university perspective,” Ryan said. He advised students, “You now have not only an opportunity, but a responsibility, to hold her memory in your head and in your heart. The way you do that is by helping others in the same way you have been helped and that grows exponentially and that, ladies and gentlemen, is how we change the world.”

Writer Cheyene Bialke is a second-year scholar enrolled at the Dougherty Family College, completing her associate degree. She was awarded a DFC Excellence Scholarship to continue her education toward a bachelor's degree at St. Thomas. She plans to major in digital media arts and potentially pursue a profession around journalism.

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